An Oregon state senator who recently gained national recognition for her criticism of sexual harassment in the workplace is challenging the state education department’s response to recently revealed allegations against a top director.
State Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, said the allegations against director Mitch Kruska — and others she’s received involving state officials — are “deeply disturbing.” Gelser said they show state officials are too lax on enforcing sexual harassment protections.
Gelser was recently named a Time Magazine “Person of the Year 2017” for her role in revealing sexual harassment by male senators at the state Capitol.
An internal investigation by the Oregon Department of Education confirmed last year that Kruska inappropriately touched and made sexual advances toward a junior co-worker.
Kruska is ODE’s director of education programs and assessment. State officials released the partially redacted 75-page record under a request from OPB.
That record substantiates three allegations against Kruska, including that he slapped a junior co-worker on the butt (and did the same to her girlfriend), that he insinuated sexual interest by saying she was “on his list,” and that he boasted of limiting what he allowed a female underling to do at work.
All of those allegations stem from a single evening at an out-of-town conference in June 2016.
Kruska has denied any wrongdoing.
ODE issued a written reprimand to Kruska “in lieu of salary reduction,” since officials couldn’t dock the pay of a manager without suspending him. The record shows no discussion of a tougher punishment against Kruska, such as suspending him.
Officials have confirmed there are more complaints against Kruska, including one ODE is currently investigating.
Gelser said if the allegations constitute a pattern for Kruska or for other officials in state government, “that person should be removed from the workplace.”
“If there really is a harassment-free workplace policy, there should be no tolerance for that, and real actions should be taken,” Gelser said.
Gelser said she has asked the department to remove Kruska from two official liaison roles. She wants him removed from his connection to the Employment First Initiative, which focuses on employment opportunities for Oregonians with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She also objects to Kruska representing ODE on the Statewide Suicide Prevention Alliance.
Gelser said she made the requests “given the unique vulnerability of those populations.”
Kruska’s regular job puts him in an oversight role for services to children in challenging circumstances, too. He leads a seven-person team that supervises education services for children in “hospitals, juvenile detention and youth corrections, long-term care and treatment,” according to ODE.
Kruska’s “education programs, secondary transition and alternate assessment team” also supervises the standardized test for students with cognitive disabilities, known as the “extended assessment.”